With interest in one sport growing and another sport waning, Claire Burns decided to make a switch.
Turns out, that was a good move.
Burns will be the first Wilmington High School girls tennis play to take the court in a state tournament match Friday morning. The WHS junior will play North Canton Hoover freshman Tess Bucher in the Division I Ohio Girls Tennis Championship tournament at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
“There are a lot of great players at state and I am very happy to be there,” said Burns, who is 29-5 on the year. “My goal is to go out and compete. Win or lose, I want to enjoy the experience.”
Burns finished fourth Saturday in the Division I Southwest District Girls Tennis Championship at LFTC.
There was a time, though, Burns couldn’t imagine having such success on a tennis court.
A basketball court, maybe.
“I used to play basketball and I was very serious about it,” she said. “Up until my eighth grade year, I wanted to be a college basketball player.
“But then I stopped growing and realized that it was a very long shot for me.”
Burns also found herself with an increasing interest in tennis.
“I realized that it (tennis) was a sport that I was passionate about and could be good at,” said Burns. “I never really stopped enjoying basketball. I just realized that if I wanted to be a high-level tennis player, I had to make a commitment to it and would have to give up some other things.”
Burns didn’t start playing tennis until she was 10, when she took lessons from coach Steve Reed at the Clinton Swim & Tennis Club on Nelson Avenue. She played middle school tennis under the guidance of coach Cathy Fay then began training at the South Regency Tennis Center in Miamisburg and playing United States Tennis Association matches.
The result was a fast start to her high school career. She didn’t lose a set until the sectional tournament. From the start, she has dominated the SBAAC, with three first-team All-SBAAC honors. She has been SBAAC Player of the Year the past two season. She also is a three-time district qualifier.
Unlike some players, Burns is very low-key on the court. You’ll have to strain to hear anything from her if a shot goes awry.
“I am very focused and try to not let my emotions take over,” she said. “Having a negative mindset or being too hard on yourself can cause you to play poorly. I try to be positive during my matches and do not want to show my opponents if I am frustrated.”
Burns admits she was superstitious — wearing her hair a certain way or using particular jewelry for a match — when she was a budding star but now is just the opposite.
“I started switching up those things to show myself that they did not actually affect my tennis despite that fact I previously ‘believed’ they did,” she said.
Prior to all sectional and district matches this year, though, Burns said her match-day breakfast routine included a sausage McGriddle and hash browns.
Burns also has been a very good teammate for the Hurricane. Winners of three straight SBAAC championships, Wilmington has had success as a team while Burns has enjoyed her individual moments.
“Tennis can be a very individual sport especially when it comes to the postseason tournaments, however we spend the whole season together practicing and pushing each other,” said Burns. “I enjoy seeing my teammates succeed in their individual matches because I know how much they care and how hard they work. The tennis team is a very close group of girls and we all want the best for and support each other. Winning the SBAAC league title for the third year in a row is something we are all very proud of and we know that it took every person on the team to make that possible.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email email@example.com or on Twitter @wnjsports